The Santa Barbara High School Class of 2021 commemorates four years of loss
An empty chair stood out among the 490 Santa Barbara High School seniors during graduation Wednesday evening. The seat, decorated with gold butterflies, was left for Ahrlenny Hernandez — or as her friends called her, “the queen.”
Ahrlenny died in 2019, but emotions were fresh as her parents took the stage to accept their daughter’s diploma. SBHS Principal Elise Simmons and Ahrlenny’s friends Susana Perez and Genevieve Puddleford embraced the grieving parents.
The theme of most of the ceremony’s speeches was resilience. The Class of 2021 has faced wildfire, a debris flow, a global pandemic and the loss of a friend.
“(Ahrlenny) made our lives so much brighter when we struggled to find light in the darkness,” Miss Puddleford said in remembrance. “Ahrlenny had this amazing ability to make us believe in ourselves.”
The dedication garnered a standing ovation and overwhelming applause.
Another student to take the podium, Alyssa Miller focused on the class’ strength amidst the challenges.
“(This past year) was, more than anything, a call to actions and catalysts for change. We are more than a class of graduating seniors; we are part of a generation that fully recognizes the results and injustices in our society,” Miss Miller said. “We are concerned about the future — possibly more than ever before — because we have seen such drastic change in this age of worry.”
The graduates were supported by loved ones, cheering with pom poms and posters, in the seats of Peabody Stadium.
It’s been years since the Santa Barbara High School Dons could graduate in their home stadium, but this class of unprecedented times was able to christen the new turf with its first commencement.